At Hell’s Gates: Volume Two focuses on the theme of ‘Origins of Evil’. The first volume was an anthology that served in many ways as an introduction to the world’s the contributing authors had created in their various novel-length horror series. Many of the stories served as add-ons or addendums to those tales-they were short stories with a very large shadow looming behind them. Volume Two has mainly standalone offerings from each contributor.
While I appreciate stories that add to a bigger world, there is something about the stand alone tale, especially in the horror genre, that makes it compelling. Sometimes the smaller slices of hell are the most dark and make you despair the most. That is why this volume has stepped up its game over the first volume. So many of these stories sucked me in, chewed me up, and spit me back out. Brutal like an assault in a back alley, they leave you dazed and curled up in the fetal position, whimpering and shivering in fear.
If purchasing this anthology was nothing more than an excuse to donate to a worthy cause, I’d have been happy to chip in. The cause is an excellent one: The Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund. But this anthology is also worth the price of admission because the stories on its pages are worthy of the investment, charity or no charity involved.
Here is a quick synopsis of each tale included in this work.
Pulse by Mark Tufo: A scientist builds a better mousetrap. Well, a better way to kill bugs. Unfortunately, it has an affinity for killing other living beings as well.
Cookies for the Gentleman by C.T. Phillips: A tale madness and desperation that spirals into a very dark, grim place for narrator…a place that threatens to suck the reader in along with him.
By Any Means Necessary by Evin Ager: An army grunt guarding terrorists at a secret military prison discovers the inmates are being used for some very unscrupulous supernatural testing.
History’s End by Frank Tayell: The best intentions to save mankind from itself can have the most drastic, unforeseen consequences.
A Mother’s Nightmare by J. Rudolph: Could you cope with the loss of all you hold dear? What would you do if you were faced with crushing despair that comes with the destruction of all that you love?
Patient 63 by Stevie Kopas: Infection transforms most of the world into subhuman monsters. Humanity fights back, discovering a cure. The question then becomes whether the infection is the villain or humanity itself?
Tyrannical Ascension by Shana Festa: We return to the author’s Time of Death zombie apocalypse series and are introduced to the man who would be king, or at least someone who has designs on such status in a world overrun by the undead.
Ink by James Crawford: The world’s most elite tattoo artist creates his masterpiece on a living canvas. The man blessed with this art is also cursed with an unquenchable desire to find the hidden meaning behind its dark beauty, to the everlasting despair of anyone who crosses his path.
The Man with Four Scars by Stephen Kozeniewski: Assures the reader that the undead have been with us long before Romero introduced them. A caveman discovers a recently crashed meteorite and the strange effects it has on his tribe.
Daddy’s Girl by Ian McClellan: Reiterates the sage advice that it is best not to judge thy neighbor for their sins when you yourself are a sinner…even if your neighbor might be a malevolent supernatural being.
Operation Devil Walk by David Mickolas: That the Nazis sought out supernatural assistance to give them more power to defeat their enemies is well established. Their hatred for Jews is undisputed. The idea of combining those two things is horrific.
The Infected by S.G. Lee: A naïve young doctor falls for the manipulations of an ultra-competitive and ultra-sleazy coworker while working on experimental medical treatments that could extend the viability of organs used in transplants.
Forget Me Never by Sharon Stevenson: Fame is never everlasting. Or is it? Some are willing to kill for it and to even keep killing to maintain it.
Mirage by Sean T. Smith: A twisty, tragic sci-fi tale of giving up and giving in…when your goal is tantalizingly just out of reach…or is that perhaps just a mirage?
The Millstone by Lesa Kinney Anders: We all have our burdens. It’s said that if you save someone’s life, you are responsible for them for them forever. Is the same true if you destroy their life?
Genesis by Kit Power: How far would you be willing to go to show God how cheated you feel when you beg, plead, and pray for intervention, only get ignored time and again?
Lockdown by TM Caldwell: What’s a teacher to do when the dead have risen and are roaming the halls of the school? Especially if you are on lockdown and you have a room full of panicked grade-schoolers to look after?
Collection Night by Curran Geist: How far would you go to protect your wife and child? How dark could the nightmare become before you lost your nerve?
The Cold by Devan Sagliani: Life can suck. Whether by your own doing or if you choose to blame everyone else for your failures, it can always suck just a little bit more…especially if you accidentally dabble with the supernatural.
A Different Cocktail by Claire C. Riley: Sure, I’d be skeptical too about a ritual that promises to bring forth a vampire master, but if you want to get lucky with a goth girl, why not partake in the ‘blood’ you’ve been offered that is supposed to summon him? What’s the worst that could happen?
A Song to Sing in Babylon by Bobbie Metevier & Matthew Baugh: The old world is dying and change is painful…not only for the human race but those who have hidden in the shadows for generations. Humans believe that God is punishing us while the others believe they are being rewarded with a world transformed into something more accommodating. But what if they’re both wrong?
The Gouger by Paul Mannering: Somewhat reminiscent of the Stephen King short story, “The Mangler”, the Gouger is a grinder used to liquefy fish guts and anything else fishermen bring to the Makula Bay Fishing Co-op. It’s also Tommy Malone’s favorite machine. He loves to watch it consume and dreams of it consuming the world.
Overall, horror anthologies tend to be a mixed bag. I tend to rate them on overall experience, though it often takes only one story that leaves me squirming in discomfort to satisfy me. Naturally, not every story resonates with every reader, and for me this anthology was no exception. A few stories just didn’t hit the mark for me. With that said, the majority did, and I’m happy (or perhaps disconcerted?) to say that several left me squirming. So this book is a double whammy: the proceeds are going to a very worthy charity and the book itself is a worthy read.
At Hell’s Gates: Volume Two can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/At-Hells-Gates-Volume-Two/dp/1508448833/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top?ie=UTF8